Training to Whoa (Part 1)
The "whoa" is one of the most important commands that you can ever teach a bird dog. The "whoa" command is fundamental to training a dog to be steady to wing and shot. The "whoa" command tells the dog to stop and stand stay until released. Like the Obedience Training "Drop on Recall" exercise, the "whoa" is used at random with a bird dog. The command does not have to be the actual word "whoa" (it can be easily confused with "no"), and I prefer to use "whup" because of the hard ending consonant. There are many different methods to train a dog to "whoa", but the easiest I have found is as follows. As usual, the training process requires a teaching part and a demanding part. Part 1 of Training to Whoa covers teaching the dog the "whoa" command.
First, lead break your dog such that you can walk your dog without it being choked by its pulling. Usually, you do this with a choke chain.
Second, develop the habit of "whoaing" your dog at the door: whenever your dog is at the door wanting out (or kennel door if your dog lives outside), give the "whoa" command at the door before opening it. Open the door slowly. If your dog moves to go out before your release (I use "okay"), slam the door on your dog, not hard enough to break bones or injure your dog, but hard enough to make it come back inside. Eventually, every time your dog wants out, you will be able to "whoa" your dog, open the door wide, and your dog will not move until you give a release command.
Next, for about 15-20 minutes each day for five days, walk your leadbroken dog and randomly give the "whoa" command and stop. Your dog should stop and stand in the heel position beside you. If not, or if it sits (due to obedience work), stand your dog up and repeat the command. Your dog should not be allowed to move a foot. Vary the length of time you remain standing from a few seconds to up to a minute. Give your release command before you walk again and praise your dog.
For the next five days, repeat the previous step, but step away from the dog while holding the lead. If your dog moves even a single paw, put it back in position and repeat the "whoa" command. Vary the length of time away from the dog, and your position relative to the dog at the end of the lead. Give your release command before you walk again and praise your dog.
During the next five days, repeat the previous step dropping the lead as you walk away. Again vary the time away from the dog and the distance you move away. If your dog moves reposition and repeat the "whoa" command. Give your release command before you walk again and praise your dog.
By this time, with your work in the house or at the kennel gate (which should become a life long habit for you and your dog, and good manners for your dog to boot) as well as the walking exercises, your dog should be "whoaing" nicely under controlled circumstances.
Part 2 will address expanding the "whoa" to totally off-lead, to get to where it can be used in field training.
Reprinted with permission from the Pointing Breed Sports in the Field Internet World Wide Web pages (http://members.aol.com/Attwater/pbsports/index.htm), sponsored by Attwater Publishing. Attwater Publishing is the proud publisher of QUALIFY! A Guide to Successful Handling in AKC Pointing Breed Hunting Tests by Mark Powell, available for $16.95 plus shipping and handling, 1-800-513-3772.
Training to Whoa (Part 2)
The "whoa" is one of the most important commands that you can ever teach a bird dog. The "whoa" command is fundamental to training a dog to be steady to wing and shot. This is part two for this field training tip. (If you missed part one, e-mail Attwater Publishing with a request for part one and we will e-mail it back to you.)
If you have followed the tips in Part One, you have spent fifteen days training for the "whoa" command, merely teaching your dog what is expected of it. You have not provided any correction, and all of the training has been pleasant and positive. Also, you have developed the "whoa" command as an integral part of "house" manners when exiting a door. Now comes the hard part.
First, you should repeat another five days, walking with your dog, "whoaing" your dog at random, and dropping your lead as you walk away. This time however, you should have your dog in a choke chain collar (not a pinch collar). During this five day period of 15-20 minute training sessions, should your dog move even a single paw, correct it with a choke chain correction. (This is very important: if you do not know how to properly apply a choke chain correction, get one of William R. Koehler's books on obedience training, or learn the proper method from an obedience instructor.) After the correction, re-place the dog, repeat the "whoa" command, and walk away again. Vary the length of time you are away, and your position relative to the dog. When you return to your dog, release it with your release command, and praise it. After these five days of training, your dog will realize that you "demand" a proper performance.
By now, your dog has had twenty days or more of consistent "whoa" training, fully knows what you expect of it, and knows that you demand performance. During the next five days, take your dog into a controlled area, such as a fenced backyard. For 15-20 minute training sessions, let your dog run free in the backyard, with you randomly giving the "whoa" command, noting exactly where the dog was, and where you were, when you give the command. Backing up in our process, if the dog does not stop in it's tracks, go to the dog, put it in the exact position where it was when you gave the command, repeating the "whoa" command, with no correction this session. You should then return to your location from where you gave the command. If your dog moves a paw, re-place it in it's position, repeat the command, and walk away again. Vary the length of time the dog is on "whoa", and vary the distance your dog is from you when you give the command. Return to your dog after each success, release it and praise it. Your dog may get to where it anticipates your command, so be careful and do not be too consistent on distance or direction when you give the command.
For the next five days, repeat the previous backyard sessions with choke chain corrections if your dog fails to "whoa" the instant you give the command, or moves before your release and praise. By the time you are through with these sessions, your dog should really be looking good on off-lead "whoa's" in the backyard.
Now comes the even harder part. For ten days, take your dog out into the field for 15-20 minutes each day and repeat the previous five day sessions with the choke chain corrections. Vary the distance from you, starting with shorter distances. You may get some exercise chasing your dog down to correct and place it in position, but it will be worth it. At the end of these ten days, you should be able to "whoa" your dog anywhere, at any distance, with consistency.
At any time, if your dog goes into a rebellion (they all do eventually, mine usually do only when in the field sessions, totally wearing me out chasing them down), go back to the on-lead sessions with choke chain corrections. You may want to start the first field sessions with a two minute warm up on lead, with corrections.
Please note: none of this "whoa" training has taken place with any association with birds. This is very important. You will almost always "whoa" your dog on point, even if very quietly in a Field Trial or Hunting Test. If your dog breaks the point, you can correct because it broke the "whoa", totally independent of the birds. Many novice field trainers cause dogs to blink birds by correcting for a break on birds. Rather than take another correction for a break on birds, some dogs will just avoid birds altogether. However, the chances of your dog blinking can be minimized by giving your dog the "whoa" command in training on birds, and giving the "whoa" corrections and re-placing the dog as you did in "whoa" training. Your dog will know that it was the breaking of the "whoa", not the birds, that produced the correction.
As an additional note, if you are well trained in the use of a remote training collar, you can use it as well at larger distances in the field without any bird contact. Used properly, the use of the remote training collar in "whoa" training can help with it's use in training on birds. Your dog will have been conditioned to accept the shock as a correction for failing to "whoa" as commanded.
Have fun and good luck at your next trial!
Reprinted with permission from the Pointing Breed Sports in the Field Internet World Wide Web pages (http://members.aol.com/Attwater/pbsports/index.htm), sponsored by Attwater Publishing. Attwater Publishing is the proud publisher of QUALIFY! A Guide to Successful Handling in AKC Pointing Breed Hunting Tests by Mark Powell, available for $21.90 including first class shipping and handling (Texas orders must include $1.70 state sales tax), 1-800-513-3772.
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